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[Kara Slade] Knowing Ourselves as Known

A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Kara N. Slade at the opening Eucharist of the Scholar-Priest Initiative conference, at Duke Chapel, June 26, 2014

2 Kings 24:8-17, Matthew 7:21-29

Since confession is good for the soul, I’d like to begin with one of my own. I panicked a little – well, more than a little – when I saw the lectionary texts for this evening. Ordinarily, I’m the first to sign up for anything with a homiletic difficulty setting of “extreme,” but our lessons from 2 Kings and Matthew seem a strange word indeed with which to begin this conference. We have come together to talk about “welcoming theology home,” and yet in today’s Gospel we hear what sounds like a decidedly un-welcoming word from Jesus:

‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?”  Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.”’ Read more

[Kara Slade] A word at the end of words

I (KNS) gave this meditation for Good Friday at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Oxford, North Carolina.  It owes much to my reading of Volume IV of Barth’s Church Dogmatics (The Doctrine of Reconciliation), which I did this semester under Douglas Campbell.

Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle,
sing the last, the dread affray;
o’er the cross, the victor’s trophy,
sound the high triumphal lay,
how, the pains of death enduring,
earth’s Redeemer won the day.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Those of you who were here last night heard me say that on Maundy Thursday we stand at the end of the world, looking towards the the turning point of history. And now we have arrived at that place. This day, this hour, is the pivot of the universe; this is the still point around which everything is turned upside-down. Now our Judge is judged in our place; now our prophet, priest, and King is lifted up from the earth, and he is drawing the whole world to himself. Now, the God who spoke the word of creation speaks one decisive word to sin, death, and the devil: “No.”

To be frank, it’s a word that leaves me without many words of my own. In theory, I could stand up here all day and pontificate about Jesus’ suffering and the significance of the Atonement. It’s one of my specialties as a theologian, so you’d think I might have a lot to say. But one thing I think I’ve learned in all my work is this: the word God speaks today is the end of all our words. This is a time for silence and stillness, not for speech.

Preparing for today’s service, I’ve been very much reminded of “Burnt Norton,” the first part of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets:

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
The inner freedom from the practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving,
[Elevation]* without motion, concentration
Without elimination, both a new world
And the old made explicit, understood
In the completion of its partial ecstasy,
The resolution of its partial horror.
Yet the enchainment of past and future
Woven in the weakness of the changing body,
Protects mankind from heaven and damnation
Which flesh cannot endure.

Perhaps what Eliot is gesturing towards here is none other than the Good News on this Good Friday; and yes, there is good news, because we know how the story ends. This end of the world is also the beginning of a new creation. This stillness reveals the intimate dance that is the Triune God. And the “No” that echoes today in the desolate silence of this bare church divides what has been from what will be. It wasn’t God’s first word to humanity, and it isn’t his last either. In the meantime, we wait, but not as those without hope.

Today God says No to everything that separates us from him.

But only because God also says Yes to everything that reconciles us to him.

It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.

Amen.

* In the original Eliot uses the German Erhebung, but I translated it for homiletic purposes. 

[Jim Ayers] Skin

We are honored to share a poem by Jim Ayers, a good friend of the Green Street Girls and a beloved and tirelessly active member of Trinity United Methodist Church in Durham. He is originally from Georgia, but Durham has claimed him for a long time.

Holy Week blessings from your friends at Profligate Grace. – ALH and KNS

It was a cold place and the wind blew strong enough to peel the skin from my bones.
I begged for a warm house and a roaring fire in a hearth.
He gave me a coat.

It was a dry place and the sun would have burned the skin from my bones.
I begged for a cold stream, a smooth pool to wash away the heat.
He gave me a cup of tepid water.

It was a lonesome place and emptiness would have shriveled the skin from my bones.
I begged for a party with friends who loved me.
He gave me a singing bird at my window.

It was a hurting place and pain would have peeled the skin from my bones.
I begged for a balm on my soul to soothe away the agony.
He gave me a night of troubled sleep.

It was a raging place and the anger would have cut the skin from my bones.
I begged for a sword to drive away my enemy.
He gave me tears.

Why! Why!
Just a coat and not a fireplace?
Just a cup and not a pool?
Just a bird and not a party?
Just sleep and not a balm?
Just tears and not a sword?
Why?

He showed me a whip and thorns.
He showed me nails and a spear.
He showed me lashed, torn, skin with wounds and punctures.
“What are these things?” I asked Him, “Must I look at them?”
“I will take the coat and cup and bird and sleep and tears.
“They are enough.”

Then He put me in a house,
With a fireplace and a pool,
Friends and good conversation,
Peace and safety.
And He gave me new skin, smooth, unwounded, strong.

[Kara Slade] This sermon is not (only) about money

ALH asked me to post this sermon, so here it is.  – Kara

Proper 20 – Luke 16:1-13; 1 Timothy 2:1-7

Goodson Chapel, Duke Divinity School, September 25, 2013

The Rev. Kara N. Slade

 

                                    O, Thou far off and here, whole and broken,
                                    Who in necessity and in bounty wait,
                                    Whose truth is light and dark, mute though spoken,
                                    By Thy wide Grace show me Thy narrow gate.  Amen.[1]
 
 

            Let me be frank.  The parable we just heard from Luke’s gospel offends my sense of propriety.  I suspect I’m not alone in that assessment.  All the commentaries I consulted – and I consulted quite a few – contained the Biblical Studies equivalent of the warning on ancient maps: Here be dragons. This passage is hard to interpret.  It’s a parable that reminds us of the importance of rightly interpreting these stories, of resisting the urge to turn them into universal moral imperatives.  And, while a lot of people seem to think this morning’s parable is about money, or about networking your way into heaven, I’d like to suggest it’s about something else entirely. Read more

[Robert Hall] It All Comes Down to Silence

Here at profligategrace.com we’re grateful to host the Rev. Robert Hall, who recently retired from 47 years of ministry in the Southwest Texas Conference of the UMC, and who still serves as dad to Amy Laura and grandfather to Rachel and Emily.

It all comes down to silence.

Our Hebrew kinfolk have it right.
“Adonai” substituted for the divine name.
“I will be what I will be,” Moses heard from the burning bush.

Or old St John of the Cross,
God is “No lo se que.”
Or St Anselm, God is “that which nothing greater can be conceived.”
The “still small voice,” Dr Powers taught us, really means no voice at all.
An indecipherable whisper,
Like a breeze.

I have spent my adult life word-smithing,
searching for just the right words for the subject or occasion,
looking for beautiful pearls of wisdom.
Which is a joyful gift, this passion for expression.
And yet, there have been times when words have gotten in the way of truth.
“Less is more.”
All language, sooner or later, leads to quietness.

Pray?
Yes: ask, beg, praise, intercede, confess–as we must.
But prayer to God ends with mouths shut,
hands still.
Like the silent sitting-together with a friend.
Or the peace which descends after beautiful music,
clapping be damned.

 

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